As I was preparing to write this weeks’ blog I had intended to write about how much is a life worth and methods courts, juries and attorneys can use to try and explain how to calculate compensation for a family who has lost their loved one. Then last night, I learned of a young navy seal Lt. Brendan Looney, 29, a native of Silver Spring, Maryland that died in a helicopter crash while serving our country in Afghanistan. He was an Annapolis graduate and married and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His mother is a friend of my sister-in-law and he has family in the Maryland area. His is a story of courage and sacrifice. A story of fighting for our freedoms including freedom of speech and that is where this blog comes in. A group showed up to protest the war carrying signs and trying to yell out “comments” about the family and solider that died for his and their country. This group has chosen to protest the war not at the White house or Pentagon but at funerals of our fallen soldiers. The group has been sued before and was ordered to pay several million dollars in damages for this same type of action, but continue to exercise what they claim is their free speech. That case has been appealed and is scheduled for oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court tomorrow. A copy of the complaint can be found at http://blogs.kansascity.com/files/findlaw.pdf and the issues before the Supreme Court can be found at http://supremecourt.gov/qp/09-00751qp.pdf.
The question is how free is free speech? Should a person be allowed to protest at a funeral? What about on the way to the funeral? Can they hold signs, but not yell? What if they are a mile away, but on the route to the cemetery? Should it matter if it is a private person vs. a public person? Are there certain areas which should be free from all protest and how do you determine what those areas should be and how near/far from them? The irony of this discussion and what makes me proud is that those who are fighting and have fought for our freedom to have these arguments are also some of the strongest supporters of the right of the protestors – not the appropriateness of the action – to protest.
Back to Lt. Looney and his funeral. The protestors were there with their signs and trying to yell at the family. What are they hoping to gain by protesting at a funeral? Are they really expecting change of policy or just publicity for their own selfish gains? Here is an idea how about the media just doesn’t cover the protestors. Don’t quote them, don’t take any pictures, and don’t even mention that they were there. They are only a story if the media makes them one.
There are heroes in this story. They include the Looney family and all the others who have paid the ultimate price for freedom. They also include Clyde Fleming and others around the county who attend the funeral of our fallen soldiers. We saw them here in Sugar Land escorting home a local solider who was killed overseas. They have been in attendance at funerals across the United State and they were there again at Arlington Cemetery for the Looney family.
Michael E. Ruane staff writer for the Washington Post reported on the events in his story which can be found at http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/04/AR2010100407104.html Clyde Fleming and others (vets and non-vets) went to Arlington on motorcycles and placed themselves between the protestors and the family procession and as Mr. Ruane reports “Moments before the funeral procession appeared, the bikers arrived with a roar, several flying large American flags from their motorcycles. As they lined up and revved their engines to ear-splitting levels, occupants of cars in the procession gave a thumbs-up sign.” “I’m a vet myself, and I think what these people over here are doing is horribly wrong,” said motorcyclist Clyde Fleming, 62, who said he lives on the Eastern Shore. “If you want to protest a war, you do it with government officials, not with the soldiers who died for you,” he said. “You don’t disrespect them and their families with such hatred.” “He (Clyde Fleming) said the church “absolutely” had a right to its protest – “just as we have a right to block their noise and their rhetoric.”
Free speech wasn’t free for the Looney family and the hundreds of thousands of others who have given their lives for this country. My thanks and prayers go out them and all the other families who have sacrificed to allow us to have these discussions. The Supreme Court will ultimately decide the legality of this type of protest, but we have the freedom to speak out against it and to show up and support our troops and their families when they need us most. We have the freedom to do like Mr. Fleming and the thousands of other riders across the country to show up and support the family of our fallen heroes and shield them from this type of abuse. So the next time you hear about a solider being brought home, say a prayer for them and their family, but also make the time to go and show your support and thanks for all they have sacrificed for you.